Imagine the rich, sweet aroma of freshly dug earth, and you’ve got the heady aroma of burdock. This taproot vegetable, a dandelion relative, which tastes similar to artichoke hearts, is one of my favorites. Burdock’s skin is chocolate brown, its somewhat fibrous flesh is a creamy white, and it grows up to two feet long, yet remains as slender as a carrot.
Imagine the rich, sweet aroma of freshly dug earth, and you’ve got the heady aroma of burdock.
In addition to its great woodsy flavor, I value burdock for its phenomenal medicinal properties. You can place it along with garlic and ginger in the “good for almost whatever ails you” category. For example, burdock is universally regarded as a blood cleanser, kidney enhancer, and potent detoxifier. It also helps stabilize blood sugar metabolism, supports the digestive system, and reduces excess fat. Dried burdock is found in countless arthritis and kidney herbal formulas, and it is said to ameliorate numerous other conditions.
In the ayurvedic system, burdock is considered balancing for pitta and kapha constitutions. According to Oriental medicine’s 5-element theory, burdock is an especially appropriate food for the winter because it tones the kidneys.
Throughout many parts of the world, including the U.S., burdock thrives as a common weed. You may also purchase its seeds from a catalog; it’s an easy plant to grow, as is attested by my 10-foot row. Burdock foragers and gardeners be forewarned, however, for harvesting burdock is not like pulling up a radish. Burdock is an incredibly tenacious root that demands serious digging. Its seeds are equally obstinate and cling to socks and sweaters as prickly burrs do after an autumn stroll through open fields. I like to think that some ingenious person looked closely to see why burdock burrs are such clingers, and then went to the drawing board and invented Velcro.
While not yet available in supermarkets, burdock, or gobo as the Japanese call it, is available year-round in natural food stores and Oriental markets. Select plump, firm roots. Limp roots are acceptable if they are not dehydrated. Wrap them in damp paper towels, and refrigerate. Use the roots within a week. If they are dry, soak them in water before you use them.
Burdock enhances stews, soups, sautéed or baked vegetables, bean or grain dishes, and sea vegetable combinations.
I ignore recipe instructions that say to peel or scrub off its dark, mineral-rich skin. Simply wash the root to remove any sand, and then cut it into various shapes, from thin strands to large chunks, and cook as you would a carrot, but allow for longer cooking time. Burdock enhances stews, soups, sautéed or baked vegetables, bean or grain dishes, and sea vegetable combinations.
Here are some of my favorite cold-weather burdock recipes.
Throughout Asia and India, where kichadi is a common medicinal food, people claim that the longer it cooks, the more “powerful” it becomes. Cooking it overnight in a crock-pot is an easy way to prepare this “gruel,” which is especially welcoming on a cold morning. The Buddha is recorded as saying, “It confers life and beauty, ease and strength; it dispels hunger, thirst, and wind; it cleanses the bladder; it digests food.”
1 teaspoon ghee, unsalted butter, or unrefined sesame oil
1⁄4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1⁄8 teaspoon mustard seeds
1⁄4 cup burdock sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds
1⁄4 cup brown basmati rice
3–4 cups water
1 2-inch strip of kombu sea vegetable or 1 bay leaf
11⁄4-inch slice fresh ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
Warm the ghee in a heavy pot, add the spices and sauté until they start to pop, add and sauté the burdock, and then the rice. Add water, kombu, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 4 to 6 hours. Add additional water if necessary. Adjust seasoning. Stir in coriander and serve warm. Makes 1 generous serving.
Both buckwheat and burdock are considered strengthening to the kidneys and are ideal cold-weather fare. They also taste delicious together.
1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced burdock root
1 chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup diced shiitake mushrooms
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 cup toasted buckwheat groats
1⁄4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cilantro or parsley sprigs for garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. When warm, add and sauté the burdock for about 5 minutes, or until it is translucent. Add and sauté onions and garlic for about 10 minutes, or until they are well browned. Add the mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have exuded most of their liquid. Add the stock, and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in buckwheat groats to prevent the water from sputtering, and add tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Return the mixture to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes, or until the buckwheat is cooked and the liquid absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, place in a serving bowl, garnish, and serve. Serves 4.
The long sautéing makes this combination remarkably sweet and strengthening. It’s a tasty side dish for any grain entree.
2 teaspoons unrefined sesame oil
1 12-inch burdock root, julienned
1 large carrot, julienned
1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds for garnish
In a skillet, over medium-low heat, warm the oil, and sauté the burdock until it is lightly cooked. Add the carrot and continue to sauté for 2 minutes more. Add the soy sauce, cover the skillet, and continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Stir as necessary. Place in a serving bowl, garnish with sesame seeds, and serve. Serves 4.
Here’s an aromatic, delicious, and healthful beverage to start the day. It’s also good chilled.
1⁄4 cup whole barley
2 tablespoons dried burdock root
1 tablespoon roasted chicory root
2 dried figs, sliced
2 1⁄4-inch slices fresh ginger root
1 3-inch stick cinnamon
6 cups water
In a wok or thin pot, roast the barley over high heat, stirring continuously for 5 minutes or until the grains are well browned. Place the barley and remaining ingredients in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, and watch carefully to prevent boiling over. Then, reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve. Serve hot or chilled. Makes 1 quart.